Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Joy that was – Benazir

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did


It has been almost three weeks to the day that Benazir Bhutto was murdered before the disbelieving eyes her people -- in the most mysterious fashion. There have been accusations and counter accusations. It looks like the world has gone crazy. The Americans are mulling a contingency plan. Musharraf, the once-charming General – and now a much reviled person -- has gone on most TV channels to wash his hands off the plot. Asif, Benazir’s widower says he doesn’t expect a Scotland Yard sergeant to tell him which angle the crazy assassin shot Bhutto from. The US House of Representatives adopted a resolution condemning the tragic assassination of Bhutto [They don’t do it for everyone, mind you]. Media is keeping the focus. Internet is replete with tributes.

Amidst all this the Bhutto magic lives on. Somehow it looks like a beautiful dream gone sour now. For once it is difficult to imagine that BB is no more. Such a bundle of joy has been cruelly snuffed out. Benazir was a medley of things in that graceful persona of hers. She represented not only PPP, the party of her iconic dad, but the unprivileged people of her homeland. The most recognized Pakistani face globally; she epitomized womanhood, emancipation and dignity.

Benazir was extraordinary in every sense. Her fight for justice is well chronicled. However many would argue that she did little to change things while in office. BB said she found her hands tied during her short stints as PM. You have to hold root to dislodge age old malpractices and clean up the act. Critics say that she didn't rid Pakistan of the gun-totting mad-men. And guns are neat little things, aren't they? They can kill extraordinary people with very little effort. And they finally silenced her.

Though she was intellectually unrivalled, I think Bhutto miscalculated it. Pakistan in 2007 was different, difficult and dangerous. Somewhere she flunked to read the writing on the wall. The Pakistan she retuned to in 1986 was innocent. The Pakistan she ruled as prime minister -- two times -- did not know about suicide bombings. Post 9/11, post-US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, post-Guantanamo and post-rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Pakistan is another world. Bhutto’s problem was that she continued to live in an illusionary world, despite her worldliness.

Benazir belonged to a different era. She believed in idealism albeit both her terms were riddled with inefficiency. She did not have her father’s political will and providence though she shared his authoritative streak and charm. Bhutto Sr managed to change labor policy in Pakistan to increase workers’ rights. Despite severe opposition from powerful feudal landlords [of whom he himself was one], he managed to push through limits on land ownership. A proper constitution was adopted by the parliament under his leadership. He negotiated important treaties. And he stepped up Pakistan’s nuclear program, foreseeing Pakistan’s need to counter a nuclear threat. But most importantly, by basing the foundation of his party on the poor and the illiterate, on farmers and peasants and laborers and the youth, he gave these groups not only a voice, but a dignity and hope they had never enjoyed.

But Zulfikar Ali Bhutto erred in choosing a wayward General to head the army. Alas Zia proved to his nemesis. After ZAK’s cruel death, Benazir styled herself on her legendary father’s footsteps and took on the establishment. She braved prisons and fought stoically. She lost her family but held her stead. Critics guillotined her. The generals loathed her. The clergy was skeptical but the ‘Daughter of Zulfikar Bhutto’ had a dream in her intrepid eyes. A dream for Pakistan. Alas that Pakistan perished last month with her.

And she died smiling. Amongst her people. On her homeland. After all the bad blood and exiles and showdown. Despite her luxury pads in London and New York and Dubai, her blood dropped on her own soil. In those final moments, waving to the multitudes from her SUV, she had a broad grin intact on her face.

I hope she smiles at butterflies in the heaven.

Godspeed, Benazir

Sameer